City Manager Chris Brady violated his legal authority last spring when he decided how the Mesa Police Department should discipline its police personnel for sending sexually and racially explicit e-mails during a citywide scandal, according to a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling.
Mesa’s investigation into the misuse of e-mails flagged 521 city employees, more than 200 of which were police personnel. Offenders were disciplined for using city computers to e-mail dirty jokes, racially insensitive material and — in a few cases — pornographic images.
Superior Court Judge Douglas L. Rayes ruled that Brady squashed the independence of other city departments by forcing them to comply with a citywide disciplinary model he crafted.
“The city manager acted in ex- cess of his legal authority and in violation of the Mesa city charter,” according to a ruling issued this week. “By requiring all departments to discipline employees in accordance with his matrix, he suspended the authority of the police department to assign discipline to its officers.”
Brady denies that he made a unilateral decision in disciplining employees. Department heads were “part of the discussion,” he said.
“I can’t tell you whose idea it was to have a matrix or whatever,” he said. “I wanted to come up with something that was fair to all employees.”
The ruling was a victory for the Mesa Police Association, which filed the lawsuit this year on behalf of 45 union members.
“We never wanted to go this route,” said Fabian Cota, the president of the association. “We begged Brady to let us work on it here and not go the legal route. He did not include us.”
The ruling says that the city should revisit the issue to “comply with its own personnel rules in imposing discipline, if any.” The ruling also requires the city to pay attorney fees for the officers in the suit.
Brady created a “matrix” that rated the severity of each of the scandalous e-mails on a numeric scale.
For instance, sexually explicit e-mails carried a harsher punishment than e-mails that were tinged with racial stereotypes and intended as jokes. Of all the departments, the police by far had the highest number of violations. The investigation began before Brady’s tenure, which started in January 2006.
City Attorney Debbie Spinner, whose role it is to advise the city manager on legal matters, did not return phone calls Friday.
Adam de la Torre, a claims adjuster in the personnel department, was suspended for two days in a subsequent e-mail audit for sending personal e-mails.
He said the police should own up to their mistakes like he has, he said.
“I feel fortunate to still have a job,” he said. “I worked in the private sector and you’d get bounced for something like that.”
The recent ruling could help the case for the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police — a separate union — which filed a similar lawsuit against the city in March. That lawsuit takes the matter further by specifically asking for back pay for 18 officers who were suspended as a result of inappropriate e-mails.
The union could have a strong case as well. Mesa’s charter says that department heads are responsible for disciplining an employee in the case of a suspension. The city manager’s role is to review grievances, should an employee appeal.
During the city’s e-mail scandal, the police and fire chiefs were brought into the discussion of a disciplinary matrix, Brady said. The meeting took place last February in an executive conference near his office. Other affected department heads “were consulted,” Brady said.
“I think everyone had the ability to weigh in on how this was managed,” he said.
Former Interim Police Chief Greg Fowler said there was a meeting with department heads about concerns that all employees should be treated equally.
“There was a group discussion with several department heads and a matrix was determined after that by Chris Brady,” Fowler said.
The ruling will go to the Mesa City Council for review, Brady said. The city could appeal the decision.